Dubai is well-known for its massive skyscrapers like Burj Khalifa (the tallest building globally, 828 meters or 2,717 ft.) and Marina 101 (residential tower with 425 meters or 1,394 ft.), its shopping malls, its diversified culture, and its commitment to tolerance. I’m an ex-pat currently based in Dubai since 2016 and learned how to maximize our fun and learning experiences when traveling around Dubai’s metropolis.
I’m excited to share this with you!
16 Things You Must Know to Skyrocket Your Dubai Travel Experience
1. Dress Up Modestly
You’ll find Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the significant GCC countries in the Middle East. As an Arabic country, it has a strong loyalty and dedication to its religion – Islam. Part of the locals’ culture and traditions is to warrant their commitment to their Islamic or Shariah law. Hence men wear their Kandura while women wear their Abaya and hijab to encourage modesty, humility, and self-restraint. It is practical to observe and follow dress code guidelines as a sign of respect and cooperation to Shariah law.
It doesn’t mean you will also wear Kandura, Abaya, or Hijab, but the point is to be more considerate and show modesty when you dress while in UAE.
Helpful Read: 11 Myths about Islam and Muslims
2. Avoid PDA
Public display of affection is not suggested in public when in Dubai. PDA is prohibited even in any other Islamic country. Muslims show their passion for husband or wife privately. In contrast, some places in Dubai tolerate holding hands of husband and wife, especially when crossing roads and pedestrians. Kissing and caressing are considered an offense to public decency.
3. Ask permission before taking pictures
Be cautious when taking pictures and or videos, especially when you are in an area where camcorders and cameras are not allowed. Usually, these are government facilities, private properties, and airports. Always ask consent before taking pictures to prevent any possible offense or privacy violations when you’re not in any tourist spots.
4. Follow national and local laws and guidelines
Dubai strictly promotes following given policies, guidelines, and regulations to assure peace and order. It is expected not only for locals but also for all non-locals to observe and follow their Secular and Shariah laws. Here are some of the standard policies in Dubai.
- Use of facemask in public nowadays due to pandemic crisis
- No jaywalking instead strictly uses of pedestrians
- Men are expected not to use the Women and Children sections in metro trains and buses
- Not chewing of gums or eating inside the metro trains or buses
- No PDAs
- Following traffic regulations when driving
- No loitering or littering in public especially at night
- Avoid smoking in non-smoking areas
5. Strictly follow Alcohol guidelines
Alcohol is not widely available in Dubai. However, there are licensed restaurants and establishments where you can buy and drink alcohol. Muslims prefer halal food; hence alcohol and pork are strictly regulated.
6. Always bring your ID
When in Dubai, keep your IDs (passport and visa copy) with you when traveling as a tourist. These are your identification as an individual in case authorities will check you. Do not be afraid when the police checked on you because this is their regular practice. They want to ensure that both locals and non-locals are safe. Prevent possible intruders from doing a dangerous act to people. Police are so kind and approachable. Around Burj Khalifa and other tourist areas, police even bring their beautiful service cars and so the public can happily take pictures. Sometimes you will find them riding horses!
7. Many establishments accept card payments
Aside from cash, many establishments in Dubai accept card payments, both debit and credit cards. I only keep 5-10 dirhams when traveling, and mostly I use cards when making transactions. It’s one of the conveniences the metropolis offers to its people.
8. All SIM cards are to be registered
When you buy a SIM card, don’t get shocked when they asked you for your passport and visa copy. It’s required by the government to have all SIM cards registered before use. Authorities want to ensure safety and easy contact tracing in case of an emergency. The life of your SIM card depends on your visa expiration date. Hence, you can renew the registration when you have a renewed visa. There are there telecoms – Etisalat, Du, and Virgin Mobile.
9. Keep a NOL card
NOL card is a lifesaver! It’s what you use to pay your metro train, trams, and bus rides. NOL cards come in different colors and use. Here are the two major cards:
Silver NOL – it’s the typical card use by the public. It automatically calculates the cost of your trip and deducts it from your balance. You can get it at a low price and use it immediately. You may use it on all forms of transport, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
Gold NOL – I called it a privilege card because it allows you to ride on Gold Class cabin in Metro and tram. It is also valid on all transport modes, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
For more details, you can visit the NOL card official site – HERE.
10. Check the Islamic Calendar
It’s better always to check the Islamic Calendar so you are fully aware of what to expect. For example, during Ramadan, there’s a strict regulation regarding eating between sunrise to sunset in public places. It is because that’s the period when Muslims are fasting. Most food establishments are closed until 7 PM or are strictly regulated. Drinking in public during Ramadan is considered offensive, as well as not dressing up modesty.
11. Best to visit between October to March
I suggest you plan a visit to Dubai between October and March because seasonal theme parks are open. It is also the period when most huge sales, various perks, and GITEX are happening. It’s the best time to roam because this is when the temperature is starting to wane. December to early March is the wintertime.
12. Weekends are Friday-Saturday
Yes, Fridays and Saturdays are the weekends. The business starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. On Fridays, you will see Muslim men walks with their prayer mats towards the nearest community mosque. Fridays are for their religious service. You’ll hear the call of prayers siren around the neighborhood, and it’s so surreal.
After prayers, you’ll see families and friends going out, usually in the parks, beaches, and malls, to have quality time. It’s a great way to end weekends and prepare for the coming weekdays.
13. Shops Limitless
Dubai is famous for its gigantic malls. Imagine a vast human-made aquarium inside a mall. Imagine an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area inside a mall. Yes, they all have these kinds of unbelievably excellent indoor facilities. Endless shops you can choose from. The four best shopping malls in Dubai:
- Dubai Mall (DM) is the world’s largest and visited mall with a total internal floor area of 5.9 million square feet. There are taxis inside which you can ride when you’re tired of walking. 😁 It is the home of Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, a 270-degree walk-through tunnel for a beautiful, immersive experience of the deep sea. The mall has over 1200 retail stores, including Valentino, Gucci, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and Alexander McQueen.
- Mall of the Emirates (MOE) – this mall has 2.4 million square feet of retail floor space. MOE has a complete array of Fashion Dome and Luxury Wing. Its shops include Centrepoint, DKNY, Boutique 1, Forever 21, Kate Spade New York, and Apple. MOE is the home of Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of the indoor ski area.
- BurJuman Mall – the mall includes high brands likes Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, H&M, Charles & Keith, and Burberry.
- Ibn Battuta Mall (Ibn) is one of my favorites because of its external and internal design. I call it the museum mall. The mall is segmented, and each segment has a name of some world’s famous countries—Architectured according to the country they represent. Countries include India, China, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Andalusia. It’s like touring around the world.
14. Learn Basic Words and Phrases
It’s cool to know valuable words and phrases you can use to connect with the locals or its residents as a tourist. Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi are the most extensive language people use but mostly knows how to speak English. So here are some authentic words and phrases you might want to keep in mind.
- Maharba – Hello / Welcome
- Shukraan – Thank you
- Yalla – Let’s go
- Khalas – done / OK / alright / finish / enough / stop it
- Habibi – friend / love / dear
- Shukriya – Thank you
- Bhai – Brother
- Acha – Yes / OK
- Nahi – No
- Kya haal hai? – How are you?
Bonus: Tagalog / Filipino
Komusta – How are you?
Salamat – Thank you
Ate – Sister
Kuya – Brother
Kabayan – literally means countrymen but also Filipino people
Helpful Read: 15 Must-Know Words When in Middle East
15. Install 2GIS (online / offline Map)
It’s good to have and use Google Maps to navigate Dubai’s metropolis, but it’s better to have 2GIS installed on your phone. 2GIS is both an online and an offline map for Dubai. You will have full access to per building wise; like names of companies and contacts, details are available. You will see which roads have toll gates, distances, and options of routes you can take to point A to point B. It will give you suggestions on which public transport to ride, how much the possible payment, etc. The cool part is, it works even if you don’t have data.
16. Diversified Culture
What I love about Dubai is its diversified culture. It promotes tolerance and lets its people live happily and free. I met several nationalities like Africans, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians, Filipino, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Australians, Italians, and many more. It’s fascinating when you go to hypermarkets like Carrefour because you’ll see varieties of food and commodities according to nationalities. People are open-minded and happily exchanging ideas and thoughts without hate. There were instances that problems may occur, but they can resolve issues quickly because of people having high discipline culture.
In my opinion, Dubai is a free and democratic emirate because people can freely enjoy what it offers. As long as you abide by its regulations and don’t step on anybody, you can freely explore Dubai. I hope I have shed light on what to expect and whatnot when you visit Dubai. There are more I can share with you with my following blogs!
Traveling is a great teacher because it offers extraordinary experiences. It teaches us to discover ourselves when we are outside our home and comfort zone. The best part is you will meet various walks of life that will inspire you to look at the brighter side of the horizon despite differences and life’s hardship. Like I always say, life is hard, but it’s still beautiful. And when you travel, it will be more beautiful!
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